The technological, regulatory, and economic landscape related to plastic use and recycling is rapidly changing. Increased use of plastics and stagnated recycling rates are driving concern about pollution, but also presents an opportunity to highlight waste streams and drive decarbonization of the U.S. economy.

On June 8-9, 2023, in Seattle, WA, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) and Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office (AMMTO) hosted Transitioning to a Sustainable, Circular Economy for Plastics, a workshop to convene stakeholders for a discussion of the current challenges and opportunities in transitioning to a sustainable, circular economy for plastics in the United States.


Worldwide attention on plastic pollution is leading to a changing regulatory environment for plastics. Recent governance includes the United Nations Plastic Pollution Treaty negotiations, introduction to recycled content requirements and the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) in different locations, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Recycling Strategy.  Recent advances in recycling processes from sorting to innovative recycling technologies are being launched at pilot and commercial scales.  In the wake of China's National Sword policy in 2018, most export of recycled plastics from the U.S. stopped. Shifting U.S. markets for recycled plastics are creating a demand for technology advances. Additionally, many companies have announced climate goals which include targets related to recycled content, plastic sustainability, and greenhouse gas emissions, which are driving changes in this dynamic landscape.

These societal and technological changes will impact material selection, product design, and end-of-life for plastics. The huge variety of potential feedstocks, plastics, applications, and end-of-life pathways (different recycling technologies, composting, biodegradation, landfilling) makes the transition from a linear economy to a circular economy for plastics particularly challenging.

The focus of this workshop was to understand which metrics are being used to inform decisions related to plastic sustainability and circularity, as well as what technological gaps exist along the supply chain that would facilitate a more rapid transition from a linear plastic economy. These insights were used to identify opportunities where investments in research and development can most rapidly and substantially lead to decarbonization.

Workshop Goals/Objectives:

  • Assess the current landscape of plastic sustainability and circularity in the United States
  • Identify metrics that companies are using to assess plastic sustainability and circularity, along with selection drivers
  • Establish supply chain and technology gaps currently limiting transition to a circular plastic economy
  • Identify opportunities for decarbonization with respect to plastics and pathways to achieve them
  • Facilitate collaboration across the entire value chain to accelerate transition to a more sustainable, circular economy for plastics

Desired Workshop Outcomes

  • Direct connections between stakeholders across the value chain to facilitate collaborations to accelerate innovation towards our collective decarbonization and circular economy goals
  • A publicly available, DOE-issued workshop report recording the discussed problems, research ideas, and industry feedback
  • Input to ensure the DOE Strategy for Plastic Innovation evolves with the rapidly changing landscape to reflect current needs and challenges related to plastic sustainability and circularity


Download the agenda for this workshop.


View the speaker bios for this workshop.


Download the presentations from this workshop.


Download the workshop summary report.


The workshop took place in-person in Seattle, WA, at the Westin Seattle, June 8-9, 2023. 


Please direct any questions regarding this workshop to Coralie Backlund (, Jay Fitzgerald (, Kathryn Peretti ( or Michelle Seitz (